Serbian police have recovered a masterpiece by French impressionist Paul Cezanne.
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The Associated Press reports that the painting, "The Boy in the Red Vest," was stolen from a private Swiss museum in 2008, along with three other paintings by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Edgar Degas.
Zurich prosecutors said three men were arrested in Belgrade in connection with the robbery.
Cezanne's painting was worth 100 million Swiss francs (about $107 million), when it was taken from the EG Buhrle Collection.
Monet's "Poppy Field at Vetheuil" and Van Gogh's "Blooming Chestnut Branches" were found undamaged in a car parked at a mental hospital shortly after the heist.
The fourth, Degas’ "Ludovic Lepic and His Daughter,” has not been recovered. The masterpiece is worth 10 million francs ($11 million).
The work was worth 100 million Swiss francs ($110 million, €84 million) when it was stolen by three masked gunmen who witnesses said spoke German with a Slavic accent in what was one of the biggest art thefts in Europe at the time.
“I think this is really an impressive action conducted jointly with Swiss police,” said Miljko Radisavljevic, Serbia’s organized crime prosecutor.
He said four men, including the leader of the gang that conducted the robbery, were arrested in raids in Belgrade, the capital, and the central city of Cacak.
Soon after the robbery on Feb. 10, 2008, Monet’s “Poppy field at Vetheuil” and van Gogh’s “Blooming Chestnut Branches” were discovered undamaged in a car parked at a mental hospital in Zurich. About a year later, Degas’ “Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter,” worth about 10 million francs ($11 million, €8 million), was returned to the Swiss museum after a €400,000 reward was paid to and unidentified person, Serbian officials said.
Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said the police raids, planned since 2010, took place when the suspected robbers decided to take the Cezanne painting to a wealthy Serb who agreed to buy it for €3.5 million ($4.6 million). Dacic said that nearly €1.5 million ($2 million) in cash and firearms were found with the four arrested men.
“Of course, they could not sell the painting for its real price,” Dacic said. “It’s amazing standing besides this masterpiece.”
He said one of the arrested men was the leader of the gang that conducted the robbery, while the three others are believed to be accomplices in the crime.
They will stand trial in Serbia, Dacic said.
Art experts have suggested the robbers took advantage of low security at the Swiss museum without knowing about the paintings or how difficult it can be to sell such well-known stolen art works.
The robbers took the first four paintings they reached when they raided the museum shortly before closing time on a Sunday. Although the most valuable painting was among the ones they took, they left behind the second most precious picture in the room, Cezanne’s “Self Portrait with Palette,” insured for 90 million francs ($98 million, €75 million.)
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